Monday, February 27, 2012

Today


'Today is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it." - Psalm 118:24


Today, this day, if you are reading this, God has given you another day. Perhaps you awakened to the sun streaming through the window onto your pillow. As you opened your eyes you could see the dust hanging in the air in the sun. You yawned and stretched out in your bed and got up on your own time. You made it out of your bed and downstairs to the coffee your coffee maker had prepared for you at just the right time because of the settings you programmed. You leisurely sip your coffee, read the paper, and eat your breakfast and think about what sounds like a good way to spend your day.

Maybe you were awakened by a buzzing of an alarm. You scrambled out of bed to hit the shower and on the way to the bathroom you stubbed your toe. You grumbled about not getting enough sleep and how you have so much to do, you will never get it all accomplished. After all, a person needs sleep and you got very little last night. You tossed and turned all night and you are tired this morning. When you finally make it to the kitchen to grab a quick bite on your way out the door, the milk is all gone, and the coffee maker didn't turn on and all that is in the pot is from yesterday. As you head off to work you grumble about having to do everything yourself if you want anything done.

Both scenarios sound familiar to some extent to me. Perhaps you relate to one over the other. Maybe you are a man and you feel as though all you ever get done is working to provide. All you want to do when you get home is to relax and watch the game but even at home people want something from you. Maybe you are a stay at home mom and you have been home all day and you feel overwhelmed. No one could find a sock if it wasn't for you. The meals are prepared because you prepared them. You dream of the day when someone will eat the food you have given them and say thank you for your work and offer to clean up.

I am not sure where you are. I find as I get older every day I wake up I am amazed. Not because I'm sick or I feel surprised, I just am amazed with the prospect of another day. I spend the hour it takes me to get myself ready and fed before work talking to God. I am not even sure that is how everyone goes about talking to God. I don't talk out loud. I just have these conversations with Him where I thank Him for another day. I ask Him what we are going to do. How can I do what He has planned for me. I ask for help overcoming my fears. I ask for strength and endurance to get through the day and to get through the day to day with my main focus on Him.

I find that when I spend my morning this way my day just goes better. It is not My day it is His day. I am merely a vessel to accomplish what He has planned. I come up with nothing on my own. I am not even typing these words alone. I know myself well enough to know that I'm just not that smart. I have a few report cards I could dig up to prove it.

I think this passage in the Bible is a bit of a clue as to how to start and get through the day. No matter what is going on in life. To remember that this is a day that He has made and to rejoice and be glad in it. You may be reading this and thinking that I have no idea what I am talking about. There are some terrible things that go on in the world. I understand that. Maybe my faith is childlike to the extent that each day I wake up I am sure that it's another day to make a difference. It's another day to rejoice and have our eyes opened to the wonder of God's creations. I needn't look any farther than my own home to see them. I have been blessed beyond measure and I believe that God has a plan for me as imperfect and flawed as I am. He can still use me. It may not be for what I choose, it may be for something so amazing that I could never have imagined it possible. Either way today, on this day, I have been given another day. Another day to do what is asked of me by my Father. By the One Who brought this day into being. Today is the day. Won't you rejoice? Won't you be glad in it?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Movie Review - Journey 2 Mystery Island

Hello Friends!

Just this evening, I decided to treat my three boys to a movie.  I'd never seen a 3D movie, so we splurged on an IMAX movie for the four of us.  I'm so glad we did!  Considering I have no short term retention of details, and we've been home from our little adventure for less than half an hour, I'm afraid I can't give a full review (Sad, right?) BUT, I can share some good stuff about this movie and I definitely highly recommend it!

The movie is a spin-off of the Jules Verne book and has just enough "throw back" to the book (The Mysterious Island) to click the long term memory into action...it has been a long time since I've read any of his books!  (But am thinking about picking them up again to read them as a family, I know the boys will love them!).  Some of the spins on the tale include a ginormous electric eel that is used to jump- start the dead battery of the Nautilus.  Speaking of the Nautilus - there was a lot of creative energy put into the design of the movie version of Verne's famous submarine.  The thing was amazing and I enjoyed the creative liberties taken in the design and direction of all of the special effects.  The animals (from the aforementioned electric eel to the teeny tiny elephants to the large insects and arachnids) are creative and outstanding, borrowing the Liliputian concept of "the small become large and the large become small", the special effects are, indeed, a journey of the mind.

There are no questionable activities in the movie (save for the opening scene in which the teenaged protagonist leads the police on a chase - but we do find out the reason for this shortly thereafter).  The family structure (with step-dad being an outstanding male figure for the young boy) is realistic (kid dislikes step-dad, mom questions ex-husband's father's commitment to family) and, just like most families, even with a certain degree of dysfunction, in the end, love prevails and we endear the slightly wacky characters because of their imperfection.  I really adored the father-son relationship that grew in the short time-frame of the movie.  It wasn't forced or hokey... (I'm a sap... I admit it!)

Finally, my boys loved the movie.  The twins (11 years old) were very much into the adventure and action and my  7 year old was laughing the entire time at the jokes and at some of the silly situations.  I highly recommend seeing this movie in 3D - as I said, this was my first 3D movie and (other than the price - OUCH!) I just loved it!  This is the type of movie that is enhanced by the 3D process, with the amazing special effects popping off the screen making the movie all the more enjoyable.  My crew gave this movie 4.5 out of  5 buckets of popcorn.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Measure of Our Success

Ever since becoming a stay-at-home-mom five years ago, I have faced the mental struggle of defining my success. Before being a stay-at-home-mom, I taught English, literature, and creative writing to middle schoolers. After that, I taught remedial English, written communication, and technical communication at the college level. I never thought of myself as being one who thrived on others' respect because it was an affirmation that I received regularly. Fast forward to life as an at-home mom, and there's not so much respect floating around. My children are small and, therefore, do not very often think to compliment me or even thank me for what I do for them. My days often feel exactly like the day before: get the kids up, fed, and the oldest off to school; do the dishes; work on laundry; straighten the living room; pick up Tori; make lunch; work on more laundry; work on more dishes; vacuum the rug; sift the cat boxes; add to the list of things needed from the store; work on more laundry then put it all away; clear the table; make dinner; look over schoolwork; give the girls a bath...... Need I go on?

The amazing thing is that most of those tasks are things that have do be done again the very next day, and the day after that. There are days that I have been cleaning, picking up, and doing things all day but I look around my messy house after the girls get in bed and I think "I wasn't very successful keeping house today." So then I shift my thinking to my children, remembering a sweet talk about Jesus or the times the girls thanked me for lunch, or gave me heart-bursting hugs for no reason. Then I can think, "I'm successful (so far!) in raising them." There, that's better. But then my thoughts often drift to those who demean my role in society, daring to say I'm only a stay-at-home-mom. Some days I let that get me down. And on days when I've failed in my Christian walk, days when I didn't speak up and should have, or days when I've completely lost my patience with the girls and barked at them or bitten my husband's head off, I wonder how successful I am as a child of God.

As some of you know from my earlier blog posts, I have been studying the life of Joseph (found in Genesis chapters 37-50). My study posed the question "If Joseph's story had ended with being a slave in Potiphar's home, would you have considered him to be a success?" I read this and sat up a little bit straighter in my chair. I spent time trying to erase the rest of Joseph's story from my mind enough to imagine his slavery as his whole story. Would I consider Joseph successful? My answer was I would seek the ramifications -- How far-reaching was Joseph's influence for God? I would probably question the point. But it's not a "worldly" success story at all. I looked at what I wrote down, and I was intrigued. If I am measuring my success against some sort of standard, shouldn't it be God's measure of success? I could see how I was letting worldly values in as part of my standard of success.

Joshua 1:7-8 says, "Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go."

Matthew 23: 11-12 says, "The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."

Philippians 2:3-4, 14-16 says, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others...Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life -- in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing."

I looked at some other verses that you may want to look at as well: Genesis 39:3 and 23, I Timothy 6:6-12, and James 4:6. The recurring themes that I found, though, are vitally important to keeping my life focused the way I want it to be. God is after followers who are loyal, faithful, and humble. He desires children who serve, who obey His laws, and who exalt others above themselves. I have many opportunities as a stay-at-home mom to serve others, to put them before myself, to be a wife and mother who is obedient to God's statutes, and to try my hardest to do all of this happily and without complaining about it. Because, if I can't manage that with my own family, how on earth am I going to manage that with everyone else, with haters and unlovables?

If I focus on being loyal, faithful, and humble; if I serve, obey God, and exalt others above myself, I am a success in God's eyes. My social status won't matter. The size of my bank account won't matter. The title of my degree or the title of my current job won't matter. Only my life lived for God is an accurate measure of my success.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Truth About Whitney Reveals The Truth About Me...

It intrigues me to watch how the world reacts to the sudden death of a celebrity. There is usually an outpouring of fan grief (oh no, not WHITNEY?!), the stirring of rumor mills both old and new, the commentary from both prime-time and arm-chair pundits who don’t need to ask the question if its “too soon” to express their scathing opinions about that celebrity’s life and the often murky circumstances surrounding their death. So it doesn’t surprise me that I see all of these behaviors surrounding the recent death of Whitney Houston. Whether favorable, unfavorable, or profitable, everyone seems to be talking about her music, her struggles, and her untimely death.

The most common theme I hear about Whitney in the wake of her death centers around the contrast between her superstardom in music and film, and the personal battle with addiction that sent her life and career into a tailspin from which she never truly recovered. I have heard all kinds of commentary on this. Some people blame Bobby Brown for her downfall, while others have said that its unfair to blame Bobby Brown because people are responsible for their own actions, citing rumors that Whitney was addicted to drugs long before she married the abusive and adulterous R&B star.

As I listened to these debates, I became distracted by two thoughts. First I thought, how sad is it to be a celebrity. It seems that in gaining the privileges of celebrity you lose the privileges of humanity in the process; one such privilege being that when you die “human”, people actually mourn you. When celebrities die, people prod their lives, analyzing and reviewing them like a plane that has crashed, seeking answers and offering perspective, rather than expressing grief over the loss of a person. Entrepreneurs offer merchandise. Politicians offer speeches. Christians offer insight as to whether the person went to heaven or hell. Fans buy keepsakes. In all of that, a mother has lost her child, and a child still has to bury her mother—but that is small news. This thought gave me a deep sense of gratefulness for the fact that I don’t have deep ambitions for fame.

The more consuming thought, however, was far more selfish. I found myself thinking about me. Not Whitney, or Bobby Brown, or Bobbi Kristina, or anyone else directly impacted by the event. I was consumed with me. You see, what intrigues me the most about celebrity deaths is how seldom these moments cause people to stop and really think about themselves. Whitney’s death made me consider my life. I began to wonder if there are any relationships in my life that are influencing me down a path toward an untimely death. I started to think about the decisions I’ve made in life, and how little attention I’ve given to the fact that many of those decisions have irrevocably altered the course of my destiny; for good and for bad. I reflected on the conflicts that exist between my life calling and my personal struggles; how that conflict strangely produces things that are both praiseworthy and condemnable all at the same time; and how, under the right set of circumstances, this conflict can either bring profound beauty or deep sadness to the world.

I’m certain that the pundits will continue to talk, and fans will continue to buy their favorite Whitney Houston songs and movies. As the public does what it always does to reconcile its deep disappointment in yet another tragic celebrity death, I submit that at the core of this disappointment is a belief that celebrities are somehow special, superhuman, or even invincible, and they shouldn’t live OR die that way. Tragedies like this should happen to regular people, not celebrities! The truth is that despite her gift, and her notoriety, and her place in entertainment history, Whitney Houston was a regular person—just like you and me—and tragedies like this shouldn’t happen to anyone. And the more we realize that, the less we will wait for celebrities to die before we contemplate both the value and the frailty of our own lives.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Scary Silence

Have you noticed that the world around us is trying to abbreviate our lives?  We're getting accustomed to thinking in 140-character thoughts and pushing the fast-forward button to get through commercials so our one hour show only takes 35 minutes to watch.  We can do our work on the go, thanks to smart phones and wi-fi enabled devices.  It's getting to the point that we think something is wrong if we don't have somewhere to go, something to do, or someone to see.  Silence is truly becoming deafening.

Yet it's in the silence where we're going to grow the most.  The reason is pretty logical.  If we're being loud or are surrounded by loudness, we can't hear what we're supposed to.  Even better than logic, we're told in Psalm 46:10 to "Be still and know that I am God."  That should be enough reason to stop our hectic life and seek Him.  Does that sound as terrifying to you as it does to me?  Be still?  I've never been good at that, just ask my mom.  More than once during a homework assignment or an instrumental practice session or any sort of craft project she would have to say "Kristin, stay in your chair." (Even to this day, if I'm getting close to a deadline that she's aware of, she will tell me that.)   It's hard, even impossible, to hear God if we're not being still.

Elijah once learned why being still was necessary.  In 1 Kings 19, we read the story of him hiding out in a cave on the side of a mountain, licking his wounds after being run out of town by Ahab and Jezebel.  God tells Elijah to stand on the side of the mountain before Him.  First came a mighty windstorm, then an earthquake, and then a fire, but God was not in any of those amazing displays of His power over nature.  Then comes the end of verse 12: "And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance to the cave." (1 Kings 19:12-13, NLT).  If Elijah had gotten all excited about the wind, the earthquake or the fire, he'd have missed the gentle whisper.  He was already in tune with God to the point that he recognized that God wasn't in those massive displays, but that He was in the gentle whisper.  And it was in that whisper where God gave Elijah the next set of instructions for his life.

I am (very, very) slowly learning that silence is not terrifying, and that I don't always have to be busy.  I still have much to learn, but I'm starting with those two concepts, and am excited to see where this leads me.

Will you join me on this journey?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Courageous Individuality

Are you a parent? What do you want for your kids? I have a list of things that I would like to see in each of my kid's lives. I've never written it down, but I have it inside my head. Here's an example of what part of that list might look like:

  • Jesus in their heart.
  • Biblical character
  • Evidence of the fruits of the Spirit in their lives
  • Godly spouse (don't worry. I'm not hoping for this any time soon, but I am praying for this)
  • Talent that they can use to serve the Lord
  • Biblical World View
  • Strength
  • Self-esteem
  • Courage
  • Confident individuality
That last one is a big deal to us right now. It goes along with good self-esteem, and it has a lot to do with finding your worth in Christ rather than the world. These are things that are high priorities for us, for many Christian parents. This means that our family doesn't look like most families, and we're fine with that. We homeschool. We read the Bible every morning and have a family worship time every evening. We spend time together the way families did when families stayed together in the first half of the 20th century. We cook from scratch. We grow things. And? We allow our children to grow and mature at their own pace and to be who they are rather than expecting them to become what the world expects them to be like.

This is why we encourage our children to express themselves in a variety of ways. For our son, this means that he is writing his first piano composition, creating Lego masterpieces and writing hilarious stories for school. It means he is singing and performing and giggling his way through life, and he is using these gifts to serve the church, something he has done since he was 8. I am proud of who he is and who he is becoming.

On Monday, Lukas shared with me as we were getting ready to leave the house to run errands and go to his basketball practice that his coach wasn't being fair. I had to pause to think before I spoke because we all know that what a 10 year old decides is "fair" is very broad. Or narrow. Depending on your perspective. I asked Lukas to explain to me what was happening. He was right. She wasn't being entirely fair, but, since life isn't always fair, I decided not to run to his rescue (this was one crazy giant leap for this mama). I talked through it with him. I suggested that he speak to her himself, and I gave him a few suggestions and asked him what he might say so that he was prepared. And then? I didn't even go into the gym.

When Lukas climbed into the van after practice, I asked him if he had spoken to his coach. He did it. I was so proud of him. And? She completely understood his point-of-view and ended up allowing all the kids the opportunity to grow some skills they had been lacking. Lukas was thrilled, and I could see the confidence on his face as I realized he had just matured by 10 years (we learned about hyperbole today in school. I never use it). This was a big deal. This is the kind of strength, courage, and character we want to see in our kids. It wasn't just about him. It was about all of the kids getting what they deserved. He's a team player, and he went to bat (err...went to the basket???) for his team. I love that kid. He's pretty outstanding if I do say so myself.

For Ava, expressing herself means that she is painting, coloring, cutting, pasting, molding, creating, and making big, sloppy messes every single day. She is dancing to worship music or singing her heart out (usually through her nose. argh!). She is putting together crazy outfits that make me shudder, but this is who she is, and I wouldn't change her for the world. She loves fashion, and, while her choices are not always what I would choose, and she is still learning about matching and what kinds of shirts can be layered together and which ones just don't quite work, it is so important to her that she is allowed to express herself through her clothing, and it's fine with us. This is not a battle worth choosing because, if we did, what would happen to her self-esteem? Her individuality? Yeah. So not worth it.

Just over a year ago, for example, our battle was over socks. "But MOM, all the girls at church are wearing mismatched socks." Say what??? Craziness. That's what I thought. Then we got together with family at Christmas, and our then 16 year old niece was wearing mismatched socks. We don't necessarily subscribe to all the latest fads in our house, but this one is harmless, so I relented. Ava's socks haven't matched in over a year. I'm so used to it that I don't give it a second thought or even notice most of the time. She loves it, and, she's right. All the other girls are wearing mismatched socks(okay, so a lot of girls, but not all). In fact, did you know you can actually buy socks that don't match? On purpose???

One day last month, I came downstairs, and Ava was wearing pastel sparkly pink leggings with knees stained brown from tree climbing and sand boxes and who knows what else. Layered over the leggings were plaid shorts with bright shades of yellow, blue, pink, green and purple on them. She wore a black, long-sleeved t-shirt with a "Rock Band" t-shirt over that. It was a masterpiece. Uh-hem. I shook my head a little and smiled. This is who my daughter is. We weren't going anywhere, so who cares? Right?

I've read many times that we should say yes to our children as much as possible. I actually haven't taken much time to think about that parenting philosophy, but in this case, it is very applicable. I let Ava choose her clothes because it is important to her. If we are leaving the house, I am more specific about what she can or cannot wear. But this freedom I am giving her to express herself? It is shaping her. It is molding her into who Jesus wants her to be. 

There are nay-sayers who believe I am ruining her. I am not. I am watching her learn to create outfits that look amazing. Sure, she's 8, so she gets it wrong more than she gets it right, but who cares? She's happy exploring her closet. When she isn't, she'll wear something different. Right? She is practicing individuality that is unstained by the world's expectations. If that is wrong, then I want to be wrong.

I love who this daughter of mine is. I want more of what she has. Courageous, confident individuality, unaltered by the world's expectations. She is who she is, and she is awesome. She takes my breath away.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Bouncing Back

I read a devotional recently that spoke directly to where I often find myself in ministry. It was a short piece about perseverance... but it wasn't the stuff about perseverance I really needed to hear... it was one of the quotes in the devotional provided. The quote was given from an unnamed basketball coach: "Being in good shape is never measured by how tired you become. It's how fast you recover."

What a great quote... and one that's adaptable, at least in my mind, to being in good spiritual shape. Truth be told, I've been wrestling with a few ministry related things over the past few months. There's been some situations that have put me in a bit of tail spin emotionally... and it has seemed really hard to pull out of it.

Maybe the lesson I need to be reminded of here is that my current spiritual health directly relates to my ability to recover from criticism... disagreements... disappointments... etc. The tailspins will come in ministry... they just will. The questions I have to ask and answer appropriately: How am I feeding my soul? Am I interacting with God in a way that will bring spiritual health? Am I spiritually healthy enough to bounce back from the tailspins of life in a quick and responsible way?

So in my personal journey... this is what I'm going to concentrate on: What feeds my soul? What things should be in my life that would make a difference in my spiritual health? If I can adequately answer those questions... I think it will go a long way in helping me 'bounce back' quicker and stronger in the midst of the storms that come in ministry.